Arsenal tumbled out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 (again) to FC Barcelona (again) today, losing 3-1 at the Camp Nou.
Arsene Wenger raised a few eyebrows with his team selection. Danny Welbeck for Olivier Giroud was not surprising, The selection of Alex Iwobi and Mathieu Flamini, over the likes of Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell, and Francis Coquelin, was. Laurent Koscielny, fit again after a spell on the sidelines, was preferred to Per Mertesacker.
The conditions in Spain were sloppy as the teams dueled in a downpour. Players from both sides lost control of the ball and their bodies in the slick conditions.
Arsenal were under quite a bit of pressure early, but Barcelona initially failed to convert that pressure into real chances. The visitors had a couple of early quarter-chances through long-range efforts from Mesut Ozil and Mohamed Elneny.
In the 17th minute, the hosts nearly opened the scoring. Neymar played a beautiful, lofted through ball straight to Lionel Messi. The Argentine controlled it perfectly with his right and attempted to poke it past David Ospina only for the Arsenal goalkeeper to keep it out. Messi could only
The Arsenal defense capitulated barely a minute thereafter. In a moment of madness, Koscielny attempted to dribble out of the back and was dispossessed. With the Arsenal line out of whack in large part due to the blunder, Luis Suarez easily found Neymar, who buried it past Ospina.
There was not a whole lot of excitement for the period following the opener. If you had "Flamini gets a yellow card in the first 30 minutes", you unfortunately lost some money as the titan of industry was booked in the 32nd minute.
Arsenal had a penalty shout in the 34th minute as Welbeck and Iwobi broke quickly. Welbeck played the youngster in behind who tumbled in an awkward fall. It seemed as though he tripped up himself though, to this observer, it seemed his foot might have hit Javier Mascherano's knee as the defender chased him. While Arsenal fans certainly would have enjoyed the penalty kick, it was understandably not given.
Arsenal should have leveled proceedings in the 38th minute after Alexis put a chance on a platter for Elneny. Ozil had skinned Mascherano on the touchline and played a cross into the onrushing Flamini who couldn't make contact. The rebound fell to Alexis who pass to Elneny who had the better angle for a shot. The midfielder took a touch instead of hitting it first-time and his shot was blocked by the recovering defender.
Alexis had a chance himself exactly a minute later but he could only head Bellerin's cross wide.
Arsenal again created a good chance on the break as a one-two between Welbeck and Iwobi put the striker behind Mascherano only to see his shot go well wide, and out for a throw-in, under a challenge from Mascherano.
Right before the halftime break, Francis Coquelin replaced Flamini.
The second half started much as the first ended - a lot of Arsenal energy and creation, with little end product to show for it. But then, in the 51st minute, this happened. Elneny's first goal for Arsenal was a scorcher, and it rekindled a small hope that Arsenal could get back in this thing, a hope that lasted a good 15 minutes before Luis Suarez bit those hopes right off with a beautiful goal of his own.
After that goal, the wind seemed to come out of both sets of sails a bit; Arsenal had a couple more chances, notably an Alexis free kick that ter Stegen stopped both the kick and the Giroud attempted putback, and that was more or less that, Arsenal-threat-wise.
Lionel Messi did pretty much nothing all night, but his goal in the 88th minute emphatically sealed another round of 16 Champions League exit for Arsenal. It wasn't as bad as we all thought it might be, but it wasn't a whole lot of fun either - but at least we got to see Elneny score, and that is not such a bad memory to take away from an otherwise unmemorable night, now is it?